Sam Waterston: A Temperate Prospero in The Tempest in the Park

A storm threatened. Not the one that opens Shakespeare's late life play, The Tempest. On the evening I ventured into Central Park, to the Delacorte Theater for the always delightful experience of seeing Shakespeare under the night sky, rain was in the forecast. It would have been appropriate: not a downpour which would have cancelled the performance, but a melding of real nature with the teeming waters of the Public Theater's ocean backdrop (Riccardo Hernandez' design) for this season's The Tempest, directed by Michael Greif, with Sam Waterston as Prospero.

As is most often true about Shakespeare's plays, The Tempest is in part about what makes for good leadership. Shipwrecked, Prospero and his daughter Miranda (Francesca Carpanini) find themselves on an island, a "strange, new world," and Prospero, making the best of his exile, takes on the mantle of leadership. The play's composition, roughly 1610, in the time of the great explorations of the Americas, is Shakespeare's fantasy about what a civilized European might find and do under such circumstances, especially if equipped with a vast library, such as the one saved by Prospero. Two creatures owe loyalty to him, and they represent opposite poles of the "Great Chain of Being," that is, one Ariel (Chris Perfetti) is pure spirit with angelic powers, the other Caliban (Louis Cancelmi), brutish and animal. Each wants his freedom, Prospero's power to bestow. Prospero has the further duty to find a suitable husband for his daughter, who has in fact never seen a fully human man.

As I said, the evening is always a delight, and it was. No rain fell. Still, Sam Waterston in the role of Prospero, played a bearded savant lacking in the authority to make this pivotal character round. And as a result, the sequences of betrayal and magic fell short of their usual verve. While the ensemble was fine--with Trinculo (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Stephano (Danny Mastrogiorgio) performing their comic duet, rolled into a two-headed monster, This Tempest in the park needed less from the template, a tad more tempestuous.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.